Then Peter replied to Him, “Explain this parable to us.”
“Are even you still lacking in understanding?,” (Jesus) asked. (Matthew 15:15-16)
Even Jesus got frustrated and exhausted with discipleship. It’s a persistent process. Of course, Jesus stayed engaged. He worked through the difficult moments, because He knew how important the process was.
How committed are we to discipleship? How often do we walk away because of disinterest, misunderstandings, or frustrations? How ready and willing are we to explain, wrestle with, and listen to people as they grow?
It takes effort, patience, and humility.
And it is necessary and worthwhile.
It’s that time of year when many families come together and laugh and smile and make memories and post all their best moments on social media to share with the world and be affirmed with comments about how adorable and wonderful and amazing their family is!
And behind those snapshot moments are struggles, conflicts, unhealed hurts, and wishes that things would be better, not just in the family but in life.
Admitting we have struggles, conflicts, and hurts doesn’t mean we’re miserable. It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the holidays with family. It simply means we admit that everything isn’t perfect, that there’s opportunity to grow. It means we don’t wallow in how things could be so much better “if only.” We’re willing to be patient, honest, gracious, and humble. We don’t wait until someone else changes before we’re willing to go the next step. We choose to change despite what someone else chooses. After all, we all have a different perspective of the truth of a situation. And most likely, we’re all a little right and a little wrong.
So this holiday season, even today, take a deep breath and resolve to be humble enough to consider someone else’s perspective. Extend some grace. Show compassion. Be authentic with discernment. Take a small step in the right direction. Refuse to expect everything to change and be healed at once. Allow others to grow, and take responsibility for your own growth.
Let go of what needs to go, and hang onto what’s truly important.
He also said: “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me.’ So he distributed the assets to them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered together all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living...
while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I’m no longer worthy to be called your son.’
But the father told his slaves, ‘Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let’s celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:11-13,19-24)
We are all prodigals. We all run from something at some point in hopes that we can escape one thing or person to find something or someone better. We all have running in common. Maybe not the same circumstance, but the same type of action. So, judging each other for running is nothing more than calling out our own faults and shortcomings.
What sets us apart is how we see and receive others when they run. Is our response like the father’s? Do we expect people to pay a certain price, learn specific lessons, and say the words we want to hear from them, or do we let God work in their lives and expect grace, mercy, and forgiveness as He would?
He does not forget the cry of the afflicted. (Psalm 9:12b)
It seems like God forgets the cries of the afflicted sometimes, or maybe that He just ignores them. But that’s our own perspective. When we don’t like His response time, we decide to project what we believe His decision and process must be.
We’re often wrong.
We can trust and believe Him, no matter what. Even when we don’t understand, when we don’t like a situation, when we feel overlooked. God is still God. He is still powerful enough, compassionate enough, just enough, and patient enough.
“Enough” is more our issue than His.
People ask a lot of questions. And that is good. As Christians, if we’re not being asked questions, there’s a problem. Either we’re not getting out and about enough, or we’re not approachable enough.
I’m not just talking about questions from people who aren’t Christians. Christians need to ask each other questions, too. But we must be careful answering questions. We don’t have all the answers. Even when we think we have an answer, we need to accept the possibility (and responsibility) of being wrong. That might not be our intent, but it’s always possible.
There is always a motivation behind the question, and it might not be obvious. Questions that might sound like interpretation are more than likely questions of application. People might ask, “What does this mean?” or “What do you think the truth is about…?” But the underlying question is often “What do I do with this?” or “How will you respond to me even if I disagree?”
You can’t know all the implications behind the question, but you can always answer with humility and respect. Speaking the truth is always important, because it is the only firm foundation for the relationship, for you, and for the other person. But speaking the truth always needs to be done in love, which involves respect, patience, kindness, and self-control.
Sometimes I talk without communicating well.
I know I don’t control someone else’s attention or response, but I can pay attention and respond as I’m talking. After all, talking isn’t the point. Communication is.
I’ve often used the phrase, “But I already told you…” or “I said…,” as if the simple fact that words came out of my mouth secured successful communication.
The weight doesn’t completely rest on me, but I need to take communication seriously enough to know that I have some responsibility. I know my motives and my style, so I may think that just saying something to someone or sending an email or text gets the job done. But communication is often less about the content and more about the relationships involved. If I don’t respect the other person through the communication process (and my attitude), what have I gained? What could someone else possibly gained?
The goal of communication is rarely isolated to information.
Communication involves people, so respect, patience, forgiveness, and humility must be a part of it…perhaps even the goal.
But many of the older priests, Levites, and family leaders, who had seen the first temple, wept loudly when they saw the foundation of this house, but many others shouted joyfully. The people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shouting from that of the weeping, because the people were shouting so loudly. And the sound was heard far away. (Ezra 3:12-13)
Same situation, different response.
Isn’t that how it often is? We assess someone’s response to a milestone event, challenging situation, or chronic season of life with a baseline of what we expect or what is generally expected. But we’re different. We bring differences into each situation as we face it. Different backgrounds, different relationships, different feelings, different concerns, different beliefs, different assumptions. What we’ve lived through matters, and sometimes it makes us more sensitive, while other times it makes us more calloused. Or we could say it sometimes makes us strong and sometimes vulnerable. We pit responses against each other, as if one is positive and the other is negative.
That’s not always the case.
We can’t completely understand everything someone brings into a situation and response. We can’t even possibly know all that goes into our own response. But we can still be sensitive to and patient with ourselves and others. We don’t have to prove someone else is wrong in order for us to be right. We can live life alongside others despite our differences. In fact, our lives can become richer as we listen to others’ experiences and widen our perspective to realize life isn’t as linear as we’d like to force it to be.
Wind around a little. Start a conversation with someone different from you. After all, the process of getting to know someone else might just clarify some things about yourself, perhaps in a way you never expected.